• Friday, July 31, 2009 at 5:22 AM

    Compassion fatigue for Haitian migrants

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I join all citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in expressing profound sadness over the loss of life that occurred after a boat carrying some 200 Haitian migrants ploughed into a coral reef in our waters on Sunday and capsized.  Latest reports are that 67 remain missing, and are presumed dead.

    The boat was jam-packed with people. Men filled the deck, exposed to the hot sun, while women and men alike filled the dark, nearly airless hold below, survivors later told rescuers. Pierre said the hold was packed so tight that nobody could lie down.

    The ones who knew how to swim, swam. The ones who didn’t, died.

    (Associated Press reporting on its interview with survivor Joanel Pierre)

    But now that TCI and US authorities have suspended their search for the missing, I feel obliged to note that my sympathy for those lost souls (and for those who survived only to be repatriated to their living hell) is tinged with outrage at the chronic conditions in Haiti that compel so many of its people to flee.  Not to mention that such tragic events have become so commonplace in the Caribbean Sea that people throughout the region can be forgiven for bemoaning compassion fatigue.

    In fact here, in part, is how I bemoaned this recurring tragedy in a commentary over four years ago:

    Caribbean nations are becoming extremely exasperated with the seemingly endless influx of Haitian migrants into their countries. Because it is now painfully clear that these desperate souls not only drain limited social services but also contribute to increasing incidences of crime and disorder in local communities throughout the region…

    Despite increasing political stability, chronic poverty, hunger and violence in Haiti continue to compel exodus en masse from its shores. And, with a population of almost 8 million potential migrants, Haiti looms as a persistent, menacing presence for every country in the Caribbean.

    [The plague of Haitian migrants in the Caribbean, TIJ, March 31, 2005]

    Harsh, I know, but true….

    Meanwhile, an even greater tragedy is the number of these jam-packed boats that have capsized in open waters, where no SOS was sounded for regional authorities (or the US Coast Guard) to rescue even those who managed to swim – desperately and aimlessly – for hours … before drowning.

    Moreover, I fear that no sophisticated radar system, comprehensive border patrols or draconian immigration laws will quell the tide of Haitian migrants washing up on our shores.

    No accident or death at sea will ever deter Haitians from fleeing the nightmare of their daily lives at home. Likewise, however, no Caribbean nation should be expected to cope with the chronic menace posed by these Haitian migrants. Indeed, just imagine the clear and present danger they pose – with millions of Haitians just lying in wait to flee – to the national sovereignty of a country like the TCI with a native population of only 22,000.

    [The tragedy of being Haitian at home and at sea, Caribbean Net News, May 11, 2007]

    That said, let me hasten to clarify that I do not blame Haitians for taking to the sea. Frankly, if I were living their lives of such oppressive desperation, I would do the same.

    But, with every Caribbean country now following US practice by aggressively repatriating them, the irony (and unavoidable fact) is that improving living conditions in Haiti offers the only hope for a better life for all of these would be immigrants.

    And, in this respect, the US bears a far greater burden than all Caribbean countries combined; not only because of its vast resources but also because of its de facto colonial legacy in Haiti:

    American presidents are almost as responsible for creating the nightmarish living conditions in Haiti as the succession of incompetent, corrupt and ruthless leaders they’ve sponsored throughout Haiti’s modern History…

    The American government must honour its unfulfilled obligations to help build a Haiti than can sustain, govern and police itself.

    [The plague of Haitian migrants in the Caribbean, TIJ, March 31, 2005]

    Indeed, President Obama must reconcile these unfulfilled obligations with the moral imperative to reform US immigration laws to give Haitians the same protected status that has always been accorded Cuban migrants. Unfortunately he seems  inclined to use the same politically expedient excuse – that such reform would trigger a mass exodus – that his predecessors used for almost 50 years to justify US discrimination against Haitian migrants.

    In a similar vein, I urge Rear Admiral Steve Branham, commander of the Miami-based Seventh Coast Guard District that assisted the search-and-rescue operation, to “recalibrate” his admonition to Haitians to take “safe and legal ways to immigrate to the United States.”   After all, the Admiral knows full well that the reason they take these “ill-advised [and] inherently dangerous” voyages is that Haitians know full well that they don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of immigrating to the United States (or any Caribbean country for that matter) by safe and legal means; i.e., via commercial airlines.

    On a slightly more positive note, I commend UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for appointing former President Bill Clinton as Haiti Envoy. Because, in addition to keeping this country’s despairing plight in our global consciousness, Clinton will be able to marshal more financial resources and technical expertise to build infrastructure, improve democratic institutions and establish regard for the rule of law (and human rights) than any Haitian, including President René Préval and Wyclef Jean, ever could.

    Mind you, this is the least Clinton can do considering that it was he who initiated the inherently unfair, if not racist “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy during his presidency, which stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to US shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas, seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily.

    Nevertheless, no one is more responsible for Haiti’s living nightmare than Haitians themselves.  Because even though white foreign faces have appeared as evil forces from time to time, black indigenous faces (like those of the Tonton Macoutes, FRAPH and even Aristide’s “Chimeres”) have been the constant, central and catalytic forces in Haiti’s purgatory.

    Therefore, as we convey condolences to the families of those who were lost at sea, let us also pray that Haiti will finally be released from the curse (voodoo?) of factional strife that has undermined all efforts to implement policies for its sustainable development and economic security.

    NOTE: If the US really wanted to deter Haitian migrants, it would concentrate US Coast Guard patrols between Haiti and Cuba to interdict them – just as it did so successfully during the early 1990s under an operation called Able Manner.  But since the vast majority of these Haitians end up in the TCI or The Bahamas nowadays, the US no longer has a national interest in committing resources to enforce that kind of aggressive interdiction.

    Related commentaries:
    The plague of Haitian migrants
    The tragedy of being Haitian
    Calls to punish TCI police for Haitian boat tragedy

  • Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 5:23 AM

    Madonna doing to her body what Michael did to his face

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m not in the habit of commenting on the physical appearance of pop stars. But, since teachable moments are so much in vogue these days, my background as an ACE-certified fitness trainer compels me to offer an instructive comment on Madonna’s new, veiny physique.

    Of course, one would think that a woman as vain as Madonna, 50, would appreciate the difference between sporting a lean body and one that is positively skeletal.  

    Therefore, only a form of body dysmorphic disorder can explain why she thinks the skeletal body she has today (pictured left) is even more fit and appealing than the lean body (pictured right) she had three years ago.

    But I don’t need to get into Madonna’s head to explain why her body has undergone a metamorphosis that is almost as dramatic and tragic as the one Michael’s face underwent. 

    Because, in recent years, she has professed, as an article of faith, the fact that she exercises three to four hours every day. And coupled with her notorious penchant for calorie-restriction diets, including the macrobiotic diet, it’s a wonder she retains any body fat … even in her boobs (or are those A-cup implants?).

    At any rate, Madonna is the poster child for what happens when one combines excessive (or obsessive) exercising with extreme dieting supplemented, it appears, with diuretics to prevent bloating (but which increase vascularity; i.e. those bulging veins).  And such a body is not only unattractive to look at but also untenable to make love to as Madonna’s ex-husband, Guy Ritchie, lamented in this October 20, 2008 report by the Mail Online:

    The pop queen’s obsession with maintaining a perfect body has been cited as one of the factors behind her split with Guy Ritchie. Her insistence on sticking to a gruelling four-hour exercise routine has been blamed for destroying the pair’s seven-and-a-half year marriage.

    The strict regime reportedly meant the couple went for 18 months without making love. When they did find time to make love, it was like ‘cuddling up to a piece of gristle’, Ritchie is said to have told friends.

    Therefore, I admonish all women who envy Madonna’s physique to take heed: too much exercise can be hazardous to your health (and your love life).

    Finally, here’s a tip: all you need to do to get the lean body Madonna had a few years ago is cross-training exercises for one hour, six days a week, and eat a low-fat diet of around 1200 calories a day.

  • Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 5:54 AM

    Gen Colin Powell weighs in on arrest of Prof Gates

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am not without some racial empathy of my own, having had similar run-ins with the police in Arlington, Virginia over the past 15 years.  Therefore, since I always managed to reason with the good ole boys who “racially profiled” me, I find it incomprehensible that Gates was unable to do the same in this situation.

    [The arrest of Prof Gates was probably justified, TIJ, July 21, 2009]

    Based on a report by the Associated Press, it’s the president and other blacks who appear to be engaging in (reverse) racial profiling

    I urge Gates to shut up with all the blather about using his arrest as a teachable moment on racism in America. Because the only lesson to be learned here is for him to learn how to show due respect to the police. 

    [UPDATE: Sgt Crowley...gives sensitivity on racial profiling?! ...  Oops, TIJ, July 24, 2009]

    How’s this for racial polarization: 

    With only one notable exception, all of my black-American friends have criticized me for not expressing unqualified support for the way Professor Gates “stood up to” Sergeant Crowley, which led to his now infamous arrest.  By contrast, all of my white-American friends have applauded me for expressing (as I did in the quotes above) what they deem is the only reasonable view of this incident.

    This is why, no matter how well-intentioned, President Obama’s beer summit with Gates and Crowley, which is scheduled to be held around a picnic table at the White House tomorrow, will do nothing to bridge America’s racial divide.  In fact, it will amount to nothing more than a kumbaya photo op.

    For the record, though, I was extremely heartened when the second-most influential black man in America weighed in firmly on my side in this contentious national debate.  Because, after revealing that he has been racially profiled “many times,” here’s what Gen. Colin Powell said last night on CNN’s Larry King Live:

    I think Skip [Gates], perhaps in this instance, might have waited a while, come outside, talked to the officer and that might have been the end of it.  I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal.

    When you’re faced with an officer who is trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something this is not the time to get in an argument with him.

    With that, I rest my case

    To be fair, however, Powell also said that, even though he understands why Crowley arrested Gates, a supervising officer should have stepped in to prevent the incident from escalating to the point where Gates ended up in jail. I agree. 

    NOTE: It pains me to concede that, despite the teachable moments that emanated from the arrest of Rodney King and murder trial of O.J. Simpson, what constitutes fairness and justice, in cases where race is involved, still depends (and perhaps always will depend) on whether you’re black or white.

    Related commentaries:
    The arrest of Prof Gates was probably justified
    Sgt Crowley…gives sensitivity on racial profiling

  • Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 5:17 AM

    President Cristina Kirchner: more Robber Baron than Robin Hood?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I relish the prospect of Cristina becoming the first wife in the Western Hemisphere to succeed her husband as the elected president of her country when national elections are held in Argentina on October 28…

    I don’t mind disclosing that, like Bachelet [the female president of Chile], Cristina espouses political reconciliation, poverty alleviation and a panoply of welfare programs, all of which appeal to my sensibilities. Therefore, I hope these women together can wrest the mantle of democratic socialism from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has turned out to be nothing more than a tin-pot dictator masquerading as a latter-day Robin Hood.

    [Argentina's first lady poised to steal Hillary's thunder, TIJ, October 9, 2007]

    As this quote indicates, in addition to heralding her historic presidency, I had great expectations that Cristina Fernandez Kirchner would honor her campaign promises to implement policies to redistribute wealth between rich and poor Argentines more equitably.

    But I suppose I was put on notice that she would turn out to be just another political opportunist when reports surfaced in August 2007, which indicated that her campaign was being funded by the petrodollars of socialist reprobate Hugo Chavez.

    Now comes reports that, just like her husband, she has been using her presidency as an opportunity to enrich herself at the expense of the poor. Specifically, here’s how the Guardian is reporting on this betrayal of public trust:

    New figures show that since Nestor and Cristina Kirchner came to power in 2003, they have presided over a remarkable sixfold increase in their own wealth.  The couple have racked up a fortune through property speculation and investments that have thrived even as the economy has faltered. Last year alone their wealth jumped 158% to $12m.

    Opponents have accused the Kirchners of exploiting political connections in their home state of Patagonia to buy municipal land cheaply and sell it at a vast profit. ‘It’s a scandal,’ said Patricia Bullrich, a member of congress.

    Meanwhile, analysts have accused her government of “fiddling” with official economic data to underreport rising unemployment and inflation, which “was perhaps triple the official rate of 9%.”

    But thankfully, unlike her patron and mentor Chavez, there seems little chance that Cristina and her husband will be able to hold onto power by passing the reins of the Argentine presidency between themselves for life.  In fact, the Economist reports that disillusionment and disaffection with their leadership was such that:

    In a mid-term election on June 28th not only did the first couple lose [healthy majorities in both houses of Congress] but they also lost the political dominance they have exercised over Argentina since 2003.

    The end of the reign of “Queen Cristina” and her enabling consort cannot come soon enough. But Argentines will have to wait until her presidential term ends in 2011. 

    It makes me almost want to cry for Argentina….

    Related commentaries:
    Argentina’s first lady poised to steal Hillary’s thunder

  • Monday, July 27, 2009 at 5:35 AM

    Tour de France: He did not win, but Armstrong cycled strong!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am a 47-year-old who still feels capable of performing in every respect as I did when I was 34.  Therefore, I never bought into the notion that, at 37, Lance Armstrong was incapable of cycling as well as he did when he was 34, the last time he won the Tour de France.

    Never mind that Armstrong himself conceded this notion after failing to assert his dominance during the last, mountainous stages of the race, where he sealed victory in all of his unprecedented seven wins in a row from 1999 to 2005.

    But, with all due respect to 26-year-old Alberto Cantador, who won, Armstrong was still the star of this year’s race, during which cyclists competed in 21 stages beginning on July 4 and ending yesterday, July 26. 

    Because Armstrong performed in such vintage fashion throughout the race that he held me (and I’m sure many others) in thrilling suspense – fully expecting him to make up the few minutes that separated his third-place overall time from Cantador’s first place in the final stages (particularly, along the high-mountain course of stages 16 and 20).  Alas, he did not, and ended up in third place.

    I’m very happy with that. There was no way I was coming back on him. For an old guy, it’s a success.

    (Lance Armstrong)

    Indeed, there’s no denying that Armstrong’s third-place performance is as admirable as it is enviable: a real tour de force.  Moreover, it is a clear indication that, despite admitting that his body did not respond to his mental commands during this race as it once did, he believes he still has the physical prowess to beat Cantador. 

    Because even before the final stage was over, he had already committed to racing next year, not as Cantador’s teammate with Astana, but as the leader of a rival team, RadioShack.   And, given that he managed this third-place finish after a four-year layoff, I for one am willing to bet that Armstrong will dethrone the younger Cantador

    I believe I’ll be better.  It’s hard to get back to speed, but now that I’ve been through the Giro and the Tour, I think I can make some tactical adjustments.

    (Armstrong)

    Meanwhile, nothing has done more to debunk (French-inspired) rumors about Armstrong doping his way to those seven victories quite like his highly scrutinized (and tested) performance in this year’s Tour de France.

    Well done Lance!

    Related commentaries:
    Armstrong more living inspiration than cycling champion
    Armstrong vindicated on doping charges

  • Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    Forget health care reform, Obama’s greatest challenge is managing expectations for economic recovery

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    NOTE:  The latest volume of my commentaries, The iPINIONS Journal Vol. IV,  has just been published. To read a review, click here

  • Friday, July 24, 2009 at 12:08 AM

    *UPDATE: Sgt Crowley, the cop who arrested Prof Gates, gives sensitivity training on racial profiling?! … Oops

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Like virtually every other black person in America who has commented on this controversy, President Obama oozed racial indignation as he condemned the Cambridge police during a press conference last night, saying that they “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates.  The clear implication being that he too believes they racially profiled the Harvard professor.

    But, based on a breaking report by the Associated Press, it’s the president and other blacks who appear to be engaging in (reverse) racial profiling. And boy did they target the wrong white cop:

    The white police sergeant criticized by President Barack Obama for arresting black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Massachusetts home is a police academy expert on racial profiling.

    Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class on racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming.

    “I have nothing but the highest respect for him as a police officer. He is very professional and he is a good role model for the young recruits in the police academy,” Fleming told The Associated Press on Thursday.

    The course, called “Racial Profiling,” teaches about different cultures that officers could encounter in their community “and how you don’t want to single people out because of their ethnic background or the culture they come from,” Fleming said…

    Crowley, 42, has maintained he did nothing wrong and has refused to apologize, as Gates has demanded.

    Frankly, it is Crowley who should be demanding an apology from Professor Gates and President Obama!  Because as incomprehensible as it might seem that the esteemed Gates engaged in disorderly conduct, it now seems even more incomprehensible that Crowley racially profiled him. 

    Here’s what Crowley had to say:

    Mister Gates was given plenty of opportunities to stop what he was doing. He didn’t. He acted very irrational he controlled the outcome of that event…

    There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother, something you wouldn’t expect from anybody that should be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor. [Touché]

    [When I asked him to come outside to speak to me he replied,] ‘Yeah, I’ll speak with your mama outside.’

    I support the president of the United States 110-percent… I think he’s way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts.

    Not surprisingly, the Cambridge police issued a statement late this afternoon saying that they are “deeply pained” by Obama’s criticism. 

    In the meantime, I urge Gates to shut up with all the blather about using his arrest as a teachable moment on racism in America. Because the only lesson to be learned here is for him to learn how to show due respect to the police. 

    Enough said!

    UPDATE

    President Obama eats crow

    3:15PM:  Representatives of every police organization in Massachusetts held an extraordinary press conference earlier today, during which they expressed unconditional support for Sgt Crowley and urged the president to apologize for saying that they (and, in particular, he) “acted stupidly.”

    President Obama effectively obliged. Because just moments ago, he held an impromptu press conference, during which he said the following:

    Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically…  And I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sgt.  Crowley.

    I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.

    Trust me folks, in Washington-speak, this constitutes an apology  no matter what his spinmeisters say. And the police should not presume too much about their moral authority by demanding anything more.

    In fact, I commend the president for making this gesture. And it speaks volumes (and bodes well) that it was he who reached out to Crowley. Obama said that they had a very cordial phone chat this afternoon and agreed to have a rap session over beers at the White House, which they hope would include Professor Gates.

    Unfortunately, I fully expect polarizing pundits to continue ratcheting up this controversy simply because it generates good radio and TV ratings. Especially since the preternaturally astute Obama miscalibrated his words, again, by claiming that Crowley “pulled” Gates out of his home….

    Related commentaries:
    Arrest of Gates was probably justified

    * This commentary was originally published on Thursday, July 23 at 3:56PM.

  • Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 4:52 AM

    On Twitter: It’s no treat for me to tweet

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve been trying for months to explain to a few friends why I have no interest in becoming a twitterer. Frankly, the whole craze smacks of pandemic egocentrism

    More to the point, I can’t think of a single person on planet earth whose thoughts and activities I’d want to know about 24/7. Nor can I think of anyone with whom I’d even consider sharing my thoughts and activities so comprehensively (or is that compulsively?).

    But I finally came upon a cartoon that partially explains my aversion in a manner these fad-obsessed twitterers might appreciate.

  • Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 5:50 AM

    Obama pleads for health care; but his surgeon general sends the wrong message

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Before I get to the surgeon general, I feel compelled to comment briefly on the political spectacle surrounding health care reform:

    President Obama has been acting like an old-fashioned, itinerant preacher lately in his effort to convince a growing number of doubting Thomases that America’s fiscal salvation depends on passing health care reform – “before the congressional recess in August” (or by the end of the year…).

    In fact he’s becoming such a Cassandra in this respect that TV-network executives balked at his request for a coveted spot in their prime-time lineup tonight to proselytize his message.

    This prompted some of his critics to chortle “Obama bumped by Boyle,” referring to NBC’s insistence on airing America’s Got Talent, instead of Obama’s press conference, in the highly coveted 9PM slot. Even worse, according to industry reports, NBC did this because the show will be featuring an interview with YouTube sensation, Susan Boyle.

    But who would have thought that this frumpy English spinster with a surprisingly good singing voice – who nobody in America had even heard of until a few months ago – would have more clout with executives at NBC today than President Obama…? 

    Humbled but unfazed, Obama agreed to move his bully pulpit to undercard slot at 8PM.

    That said, let me hasten to note that I’m not one of those doubting Thomases.  Indeed, I hereby testify that I’m a firm believer in his message about the fierce urgency of reforming health care … now!  And I commend him for pulling out all the stops, and not standing on ceremony, to spread the word.

    Now about this surgeon general: 

    Actually, I was stupefied when Obama suspended his preaching about health care only to announce his appointment of a new surgeon general who embodies so much that is wrong with health care in America today; i.e., an epidemic of obesity and related maladies.

    Specifically, Obama returned to the White House last week where he introduced Dr. Regina M. Benjamin by regaling her as a McArthur Genius who had championed the poor at a medical clinic she set up in Katrina-ravaged Alabama.  

    Now bear in mind that, according to the Journal Health Affairs, (preventable) obesity accounts for 10 percent of the health care costs (or almost $150 billion a year) that Obama is pledging to reduce.  More to the point, research shows that medical spending averages $1,400 more for a fat person than for someone of normal weight.

    No doubt Dr Benjamin is a very distinguished medical practitioner. But the job of surgeon general is far more about inspiring Americans to live healthy lifestyles than about practicing medicine.  And, frankly, I doubt she will provide much inspiration looking as unfit as she does.

    By way of illustration, how would you feel if you went to the gym – full of enthusiasm to begin your New Year’s resolution to lose 40 pounds – only to be greeted by a personal trainer who looked 40 pounds overweight…?

    Enough said?

    NOTE: I am mindful that Obama himself is not setting a very good example by continuing to smoke.  But he was elected to serve as commander in chief; whereas Benjamin has been appointed to serve as doctor in chief.

  • Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 5:22 AM

    The arrest of Harvard professor “Skip” Gates was probably justified

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Professor Henry Louis Gates, one of the most distinguished scholars in America, was arrested last Thursday after he was spotted trying to break into his own home, which is located near Harvard University. Yes, like a dummy, he locked himself out.

    After reading about his arrest, I immediately thought about the imperious manner in which celebrities often throw their fame at public officials to get their way. And even though I find this tact unseemly, I think this was an occasion when Gates might have been well-served to play this celebrity card on the officers who arrived on this understandably suspicious scene.

    For example, he might have responded as follows:

    No cause for alarm officers, this is my home.

    And if that did not diffuse the situation, Gates would have been forgiven for then exclaiming, indignantly:

    Don’t you know who I am?!!!  My name is Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but my friends, like President Barack Obama and Oprah, just call me Skip.  I am the director of Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. May I reach slowly into my pocket to show you my ID?

    (FYI: Gates was the host of “African American Lives,” a PBS show that featured black celebrities, including Oprah, tracing their African roots. And he was named by TIME magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in America.)

    With that, I have to think that even if these cops were Bull-Connor racists hell-bent on executing their unspoken mandate to racially profile blacks, such a response would have compelled them to defer to Gates, and this situation would have ended cordially.

    To be fair, Gates insists that he did exactly as I suggest, but that the police continued interrogating him even after he showed them his license and Harvard ID.

    But the officers claim that he refused to respond to their order to identify himself. In fact, they report that he became belligerent, calling them racists and exhibiting a “loud and tumultuous behavior” while saying, repeatedly:

    This is what happens to black men in America…  You don’t know who you’re messing with.

    The officers insist that Gates resisted all of their efforts to calm him down.  Moreover, his version of events fails to take into account the obvious fact that these Cambridge officers would have been loath to invite this public scrutiny; which they must have known was bound to follow the arrest of any Harvard faculty – not to mention the arrest of a black one screaming accusations of racism.

    This makes it reasonable to infer that they had probable (and just) cause to arrest him. And, if Gates responded as they claim, then he deserved to be arrested – no matter how reasonable his suspicion that he was being racially profiled. As things turned out, he was charged with disorderly conduct, released within hours on his own recognizance and is scheduled to be arraigned on August 26.

    Not surprisingly, racial empathy has moved many of his black colleagues at Harvard to come to his defense – with Law Professor Charles Ogletree, who is almost as famous as Gates, now acting as his lawyer.

    We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white. It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened.

    (Professor Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 25 years)

    Fair enough.  But I am not without some racial empathy of my own, having had similar run-ins with the police in Arlington, Virginia over the past 15 years.  Therefore, given that I always managed to reason with the good ole boys who “racially profiled” me, I find it incomprehensible that Gates was unable to do the same in this situation.

    More to the point, even Professor Counter claims to have been racially profiled by the Cambridge police a few years ago. Unfortunately, the instructive irony seemed lost on him when, in defending Gates, Counter revealed that he too managed to avoid arrest … even without being able to produce a personal ID.

    Frankly, it would be one thing if Gates were claiming police brutality, and that this is what triggered his belligerent behavior.  But claiming that his behavior was justified because he felt he was being racially profiled only perpetuates the stereotype of black American men as emotionally immature and prone to violence.

    Far more than “unsettling”, it’s a damn shame that this happened.

    NOTE: Black Americans invariably assert that those of us from the Caribbean cannot possibly relate to the psychosis of black victimology that racism has wrought, which causes them to go gangsta sometimes when they’re confronted by the police.   But this only reflects their ignorance of our own civil rights struggles and amounts to nothing more than intra-racial stereotyping….

    UPDATE

    Local DA drops charge

    Today at 11:56 AM:  As I indicated above, the police were clearly loath to arrest Gates.  Therefore, it came as no surprise that the local District Attorney was even more loath to prosecute him – given that his trial would have been far more about racism in America than about Gates’ alleged disorderly conduct.

    Accordingly, for law-enforcement authorities, dropping the charge is a regrettable but sensible thing to do.  For black men in America, however, even though good for Gates, it sets a dangerous precedent: as any ordinary black man in Cambridge, Massachusetts who tries to emulate him by bad mouthing the police will undoubtedly find out.

  • Monday, July 20, 2009 at 5:32 AM

    Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America,” is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Walter Cronkite, “who personified television journalism for more than a generation as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News,” died after a prolonged illness at his home in New York on Friday. He was 92.

    Alas, despite being a news junkie, I am too young to fully appreciate the eulogies to Cronkite that were popping up all over television last weekend. Indeed, nothing demonstrates how little his name resonates today quite like the fact that not even CBS could emulate the 24/7 coverage it dedicated to the death of Michael Jackson.

    That said, it speaks volumes that Cronkite commanded so much respect as a journalist that nobody seems to have taken issue with him being heralded in his day as “the most trusted man in America.”  Can you imagine the same being said of anyone in the media today…?  Hell, not even the Pope seems worthy of such acclaim….

    At one time, his audience was so large, and his image so credible, that a 1972 poll determined he was “the most trusted man in America” – surpassing even the president, vice president, members of Congress and all other journalists.

    (CBS tribute to Walter Cronkite)

    Of course, I’ve seen enough footage of his reporting on seminal events in US history to understand the reasons for his acclaim.  Most notable in this respect was the empathy he showed during coverage of the Kennedy (JFK) assassination and the curious combination of child-like fascination and unbridled jingoism he exhibited during coverage of America’s race to the moon – when he stayed on the air for 27 of the 30 hours it took the astronauts of Apollo 11 to complete their mission. 

    (Incidentally, today marks the 40th anniversary of that landing on the moon….)

    But what stands out for me in Cronkite lore is the role he played in exposing the big lie the US government was telling in the late-1960s about winning the war in Vietnam.  Because all it took was for this most trusted man in America to report as follows – after investigating the state of that war first-hand from the front lines in 1968:

    It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate.

    In fact, Cronkite’s report incited so many erstwhile gullible Americans to join anti-war protests that President Lyndon Johnson was forced to concede that, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.”  And sure enough, even though the war dragged on for another four years, the primary objective of America’s involvement in Vietnam after Cronkite’s report was finding a way to retreat with honor.

    On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed to find in all of these eulogies any reference to the ignominious way CBS forced Cronkite into early retirement in order to give his anchor chair to upstart Dan Rather in 1981. And even though this allowed him to indulge in his favorite passion full time (at the helm of his sailing boat), reports are that Cronkite never got over his resentment at being fired so unceremoniously. 

    At any rate, here’s how I referred to this usurpation when I commented on the fulfillment of the karma Rather wrought in this respect:

    Unlike the graceful exit of his rival and fellow news dinosaur, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Dan will not enjoy a fond farewell. Instead, in unseemly and spiteful form, his fellow colleagues at CBS have been leading a chorus of critics in dancing on his professional grave as they bid him a gleeful good riddance.

    Why? Well, Dan seemed utterly uninterested in winning friends as he climbed the network ladder to the Anchor’s chair. And, he outraged not only his colleagues but all of America by usurping Walter Cronkite – “the most trusted man in America” – from that chair in very churlish fashion.

    [Dan Rather pushed off his anchor's chair, TIJ, March 9, 2005]

    And that’s the way it was….

    Farewell Walter

    NOTE: To read why I felt compelled to write a public thank you to Sir Robin Auld on behalf of all citizens and permanent residents of my mother country, the Turks and Caicos Islands, click here.

    Related commentaries:
    Dan Rather pushed off his anchor’s chair

  • Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 7:17 AM

    Even Putin thought Obama’s attempt to draw distinctions between Russia and Iran was naive … and hypocritical

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 6:58 AM

    Sen. Burris shamed into retirement

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill) finally announced that he will not be seeking to be elected in his own right to the seat Barack Obama vacated when he was elected president. But his announcement was as humiliating as it was anticlimactic.

    No doubt you recall the venal ambition Burris displayed in soliciting the then disgraced and indicted governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, to appoint him to serve out the remainder of Obama’s term.  In fact, such was his shameless pursuit in this respect that I felt compelled to make this observation:

    Given Burris’ solicitous embrace of the media spotlight, I do not think Blagojevich could have chosen a crazier political fox – so much in his own image – even if his choice were ordained by God.  

    [Mr. Burris comes to Washington, TIJ, January 6, 2009]

    But when members of the Congressional Black Caucus began exhorting him to run in his own right, I felt compelled to make this observation:

    Burris has become so reviled in Illinois that he would be lucky to win the Democratic primary (especially against the black congressmen who rejected Blagojevich’s offer on principle), let alone win a statewide race.  

    [Burris to be sworn in as senator, finally, TIJ, January 15, 2009]

    In fact, anyone in his right mind could have foreseen that Democratic leaders, including then President-elect Obama, would be hell-bent on exacting cold revenge against Burris for defying them by accepting Blagojevich’s tainted appointment. And with such forces arrayed against him, there simply was no way Burris could raise enough cash to run an election campaign.  

    This is why I defied his virtually all-black enablers by offering the following advice:

    I urge Burris to bask in all of the glory he can grasp over the next two years.  And his glory would be greatly enhanced if he were to announce within six months that, at 71, he thinks it would be best to pass the torch to a younger politician in 2010 to represent Illinois with all of the vigor it deserves.  He could then retire gracefully….

    Instead of heeding my advice, however, he reportedly began campaigning for the 2010 election within days after being sworn in.  Sadly, it’s only now, after raising just a fraction of the millions he hoped to have in his campaigner coffers, that he has been forced to make this ignominious announcement.

    Frankly, that Burris ran so head strong into this political pillory is more pathetic than sad. 

    Accordingly, I bid him not good bye, but good riddance.

    Related commentary:
    Mr. Burris comes to Washington
    Burris to be sworn in as senator, finally

  • Friday, July 10, 2009 at 3:18 AM

    Alas, President Obama’s first visit to Africa is nothing to celebrate

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There’s no denying that the first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa by the first black president of the United States is a big deal.  And there’s no denying that every African head of state lobbied heavily to serve as host for this historic occasion.

    Therefore, it speaks volumes that President Barack Obama has relegated today’s visit to a one-day stopover. And it speaks even more so that he’s snubbing both South Africa, the most powerful country in Africa, and Kenya, the country that claims him as its native son (because that’s where his father was born).  Instead, he’s limiting his visit to Ghana, the place most African Americans associate with the slave trade.

    Not to mention that this one-day visit to Africa smacks of little more than a politically correct gesture after his one-week visit to Europe, where he clearly took in ALL the sights

    Incidentally, I hope Obama accepts the good-natured ribbing that will surely follow from being caught in this leering fashion; i.e., instead of giving us some politically correct spin about looking down but not checking out that booty.   Especially since I’m sure that Berlusconi, Sarkozy and, not least, Clinton will be happy to consider this shot his initiation into their fraternity of lovable, political cads.

    But I digress….

    Actually, I don’t blame Obama for giving Africa such short shrift.  After all, despite hundreds of billions in US foreign aid to promote good governance, economic development and public health, that Dark Continent remains blighted by political corruption, chronic poverty, tribal warfare and deadly diseases.

    More to the point, he’s understandably loath to visit South Africa – given that its president, Jacob Zuma, is an alleged rapist and thief, and of whom no less a person than the Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, proclaimed all South Africans should be ashamed.  And he’s understandably loath to visit Kenya – given that its president, Mwai Kibaki, resorted to tribal vote-rigging and Big-Dada thuggery to steal his re-election last year.

    This is why I am convinced Obama chose Ghana by default.  Though, to be fair, it deserves to be lauded as the most stable democracy in Africa, having had three successful (i.e., transparent and non-violent) transfers of power from one democratically elected leader to another since 1992.  And no doubt this will be the official reason given for Obama’s visit.

    Of course Ghana will herald him as a latter-day black Moses.  Yet how can any self-respecting black person take pride in the fact that Obama will spend less time on his first state visit to Africa than President George W. Bush?

    Frankly, one can be forgiven the impression that he chose Ghana as much for its geography as for its politics.  Since, situated as it is on the West coast of Africa, this will allow him to make his fly-by visit without spending too much time in Sub-Saharan Africa’s politically toxic airspace.

    Related commentary:
    Post-election conflict in Kenya
    Hail Zuma … Bid Dada
    AFRICOM: No good deed Bush does goes unpunished
    Zimbabwe: plagued by Mugabe … and Cholera

  • Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 6:11 AM

    Actually, quitting was a no-brainer for Sarah Palin

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If you were Palin and could go, in an instant, from serving as governor of Alaska to making millions (as a shoot-from-the-lip, eye-winking, titillating crusader for conservative causes), wouldn’t you make that change…?

    You betcha!

    It’s just too bad she didn’t have the balls to state this obvious reason for quitting. Instead, she spewed such Palinesque BS —  saying, for example, that she’s quitting to prove she’s not a quitter that one got the impression she was Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin as she announced her resignation last Friday.

    All the same, good luck Sarah….

    Related commentaries:
    Palin is still a national joke

  • Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 5:15 AM

    R.I.P. MJ

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Far too much has already been said about yesterday’s memorial service for Michael Jackson. Therefore, I shall be relatively brief. 

    Admittedly, I only saw a few clips last night. But the most poignant moment for me was not any of the eloquent eulogies (Brooke Shields) or stirring performances (Jermaine Jackson … who knew?). Nor was it little Paris upstaging everyone by declaring grief-stricken love for her Daddy:  

    Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father I could imagine. I just want to say I love him so much.

    Incidentally, as “touched” as everyone else seems to have been by Paris’ performance, I found it painfully awkward, if not forced.  Never mind the contradiction inherent in putting all three kids on public display (before a reported one billion people); i.e., given the extremes to which their “great father” went to hide their faces.  I wonder who decided this shock therapy was in his kids’ best interest…? But I digress….

    The most poignant moment for me was realizing, when she comforted Paris on stage, that Janet, and not her elderly and infirmed mother, is probably the best person to gain permanent custody of Michael’s children. Not least because, given her own commercial success, she’s the only one of the lot who will not be motivated to milk them like little cash cows.

    Related commentaries:
    Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. But

  • Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    Obama and Medvedev “reset” US-Russia relations

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As great a celebrity as President Obama has become, I really did not expect coverage of his Moscow summit to compete with the obsessive, predatory and wholly redundant coverage of (plans for) today’s Michael Jackson Memorial.  

    But nothing demonstrates the tabloidization of the news media quite like the fact that even coverage of Sarah Palin’s “nutty” resignation speech has dominated coverage of this historic summit.

    Nevertheless, I am mindful that, juxtaposed to Obama’s mission to “reset” relations between the US and Russia, interest in anything related to Michael and Sarah can only amount to fleeting celebrity hysteria. After all, how much has anyone not related to her really missed Princess Di, whose death incited even greater iconographic worship than Michael’s?

    In any event, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ended the first day of their two-day summit yesterday by signing a series of historic bi-lateral agreements

    Most notably, they codified Obama’s declaration that, since their two countries possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, they had a special duty to lead by example on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation.  Specifically, they agreed to reduce their respective stockpiles by about a third – to between 1500 and 1675 nuclear warheads each.  

    Of course, Obama often speaks of ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons.  But nobody expects the US or Russia’s stockpiles to be reduced much lower than these new levels with an increasing number of rogue nations hell-bent of developing nuclear arsenals.

    Indeed, this agreement will do nothing to deter Iran or North Korea in this respect. But it should at least enhance the US and Russia’s moral authority when lecturing other nations about nuclear non-proliferation.

    Meanwhile, Obama made it plain that he’s more like Reagan than Bush when it comes to executing these bi-lateral agreements. Because instead of taking anything on faith (i.e. as Bush did by declaring Putin a soul mate), he insisted that he trusts Medvedev to keep his word, but must verify….

    They also agreed to increase cooperation in a number of areas to add substantive deeds to the personal relationship US and Russian leaders (like Clinton & Yeltsin, Bush & Putin) have enjoyed in recent years.

    Significantly, Russia agreed to allow the US to transport arms and military personnel over its territory into Afghanistan.  In addition to facilitating operational logistics for this war, which Obama has deemed to be necessary and just, US officials indicate that this agreement will save $133 million a year, through transit fee waivers, shorter flying times, and reduced fuel costs.

    On the other hand, Obama defied his domestic critics by holding his ground on missile defense and NATO expansion.  In fact, I have no doubt that he’s such an effective politician because, like Reagan, he expresses his firm disagreement with disarming geniality

    In this case, Obama maintained the long-settled position that stationing US defensive missiles on Russia’s border is designed “only to protect European allies from missile attack by third-party nations.” And he admonished Russia to respect the sovereignty of former satellite countries like Georgia and Ukraine whose pro-western leanings, even more than its imploding economy, have reinforced the loss of Russia’s “sphere of influence” on the world stage.

    Finally, Obama displayed refreshing knowledge and diplomatic tact, for a US president, when a reporter asked him – during his joint press conference with Medvedev – whether he thought President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin was really in charge.  Because instead of committing to either one, Obama said that he respects Russia’s form of government and the respective roles both men played in their system. 

    Never mind that everybody knows Medvedev is nothing more than Putin’s puppet:

    The only thing that explains Medvedev selection is the expectation that he will be even more deferential to Putin… Medvedev went out of his way during his first televised address yesterday to assure the Russian people (and warn the world?) that Putin shall continue to be the most powerful man in Russia.

    [Putin's puppet, Medvedev, wins Russia's presidential election..., TIJ, March 3, 2008]

    NOTE: Rep. Peter King, a relatively insignificant congressman from New York, made quite a name for himself yesterday by railing against the 24/7 media coverage of Michael Jackson by dismissing the King of Pop as a “low-life, pervert, child molester [and] pedophile” who is not worthy of any tribute. 

    Clearly, based on the opening to this commentary, I sympathize with King’s lament about the excessive coverage. But he undermined this unassailable point by lacing it with such mean-spirited vitriol.  Frankly, he disgraced his office; and I think he owes the Jackson family an apology.

    Related commentaries:
    Putin’s puppet, Medvedev
    Russia calls US bluff … on Georgia
    Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. But

  • Monday, July 6, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    Serena and Federer triumph at Wimbledon

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last weekend brought sweet redemption for Serena Williams and Roger Federer at Wimbledon as both avenged heart-breaking losses last year in the women’s and men’s championship, respectively.

    Serena

    Six years ago, Venus and Serena Williams made history when they became the first sister act to perform on centre court in a women’s final at Wimbledon.  Serena upset her big sister back then to win her first of two titles at this most prestigious of the four Grand Slams tournaments (the others being the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open).

    And even though the quality of their play against each other in that match left a great deal to be desired, they so dominated all of their respective opponents that I thought they were destined to be featured in this (and every other Grand Slam) final for years to come. Frankly, I fully expected Venus and Serena to do to the records in women’s tennis what Tiger Woods has done (and is doing) to the records in golf.

    Alas, they have not.  In fact, of the 43 Grand Slam titles that have been up for grabs since they turned pro in 1998, Venus has won only 7 and Serena 11.  By comparison, in less than half that time – from 2004 to 2008 – Justine Henin won 7 titles. And at 29 and 27, respectively, it seems a pipe dream that either Venus or Serena will ever surpass Steffi Graf’s feat of winning 22 titles, let alone Margaret Court’s 24.

    Therefore, as I watched them on Saturday displaying the same power, skill and grace that made them seem so invincible six years ago, I could not help thinking what opportunities had been lost – to fashion modeling, acting, injuries … and boys.

    Nevertheless, they seem to be fulfilling my grand expectations at Wimbledon by appearing in the women’s championship match for the second consecutive year.  And, as indicated above, Serena avenged last year’s loss to Venus (7-5, 6-4) by thrashing her this year 7-6, 6-2.

    It feels so amazing. I’m so blessed. I feel like I shouldn’t be holding the trophy. I can’t believe I’m holding it. It’s named for Venus and she always wins.

    (Serena)

    No doubt Serena helped Venus get over her loss by joining her on centre court just hours later to win the women’s doubles championship.

    Federer

    I’ve been quite unabashed in expressing my preference for women’s tennis. Because, frankly, the women’s game is not only almost as powerful as the men’s (with Venus hitting 125 mph serves); their fierce baseline strokes during relatively long rallies are also far more titillating to watch than the one big serve that now characterizes men’s tennis.

    [Hail to 4-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams, TIJ, July 3, 2008]

    I began with the above quote because I want you to see the words that I’m being forced to eat.  Because, after watching Roger Federer and Andy Roddick yesterday play 4 hours, 16 minutes, five sets and 77 games of the best tennis I’ve ever seen  (complete with long and thrilling rallies that outmatched those Venus and Serena played in their finals match), I feel obliged to do so.

    In fact, women tennis players are beginning to not only play but also sound a lot like the men.  Personally, I don’t mind their testosteronal grunts; and I think it smacked of puritanical lunacy that those fuddy duddies at Wimbledon tried to muzzle them….

    At any rate, given that Roddick had gone through the entire tournament without ever losing his serve, it seemed only a matter of time before he broke Federer’s to win their epic fifth set.  Therefore, it came as quite a shock that it was the older and seemingly more vulnerable Federer who held serve (and his stamina) to finally break Roddick’s to win the match 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 (there being no fifth-set tiebreak at Wimbledon).

    Unfortunately, unlike Serena, he was unable to avenge last year’s loss against the player who defeated him because injury prevented Rafael Nadal from competing this year.

    What does it say about Agassi’s respect for the integrity of his sport when he touts Roger Federer as the best tennis player in history, when Federer’s accomplishments on the court (i.e. in terms of Grand Slams won) pales in comparison to Sampras’?

    [Agassi whimpered into retirement, TIJ, September 5, 2006]

    That said, Federer’s victory was far more significant than Serena’s because, with it, he broke Pete Sampras’ record for the most Grand Slam singles titles in men’s tennis history.  To his credit, Sampras seemed content and gracious as he witnessed Federer do so from his perch in the Royal Box.

    Accordingly, I am now obliged to concede that Federer is the best tennis player in history. Not least because, as Federer made clear yesterday, he fully expects to pad his Grand Slam record in the years to come.

    He’s a stud.  He’s only 27. He’ll contend here for many years, and the U.S. Open, and all the majors. If he just keeps it going and stays healthy, he could go to 18, 19, potentially. The guy, he’s a legend. Now he’s an icon.

    (Pete Sampras)

    Related commentaries:
    Agassi whimpered into retirement

  • Friday, July 3, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    Keep your chin up America. Happy Independence Day (weekend)!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    NOTE: In keeping with all things Michael Jackson, an updated version of my commentary on his death was published today at Caribbean Net News: here

  • Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 2:33 AM

    The judge gave Madoff 150 years. But his real punishment might be what fellow inmates give him…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Bernie Madoff pleads for mercy

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